Last week, my wife and my youngest daughter experienced a communication breakdown. In short, my daughter, at age 13, changed her plans without consulting my wife. This created a problem for two reasons:
- My daughter moved to a different location than the previously agreed upon location for pick-up, and
- My daughter's schedule directly impacts my wife's schedule.
Understandably, my wife felt frustrated and angry. Rather than address the issue while she was angry, she waited until we could speak about it on Saturday morning.
As we discussed the appropriate parental response, my wife's frustration from the previous day came to the surface. For a brief moment, she considered “punishing” my daughter. As we spoke, I asked one question: “What is your objective? Do you want to punish her because you are angry or do you want to make sure this behavior does not happen again in the future?” (I'm not convinced that I phrased this question in the best way for her in the moment.)
She stopped briefly. Then she said: “When you put it that way, I suppose I want to make sure this does not happen again in the future.”
In that moment, my wife's intended actions began to move towards appropriate and natural consequences for my daughter's behavior and away from consequences that would likely communicate vengeance and anger.
My daughter did not intend to cause problems for her mother. She just did not think through all of the implications of her decision. She has some things to learn. My wife and I need to help her learn them.
My wife did not intend to harm my daughter, she wanted to protect her from making poor decisions in the future. In the emotion of the situation, she initially had a difficult time seeing past her anger.
I had the “emotional upper hand” in this situation. I was not emotionally involved in the events of the previous day. I could easily, in this case, make an objective, third-party observation. My wife lived the situation, and her emotions were directly involved. She had a more difficult time making the switch in thinking because of her emotional investment. She did it. It just was not easy for her to do.
After my wife shifted her thinking about the situation, we then discussed it further. After a few minutes, we came to an agreement about how to handle the situation in a way that would improve our odds of achieving our real objective – teaching our daughter a life lesson that will serve her well beyond the time she lives with us.
Monday Momentum Message – Be clear about your real objective before you confront another person.